Familiarity Breeds Content
Garrison Keillor and Chet Atkins, 1994
Pontoon, A Novel of Lake Woebegon
For better or worse, Garrison Keillor has been more or less a constant presence in my life since my teen years. He is sort of like an elder brother, one who left home early and did well for himself, or at least better than I did. He was born and attended school in the town I live in, he went to the University of Minnesota, where he was the editor of the Ivory Tower, a literary magazine which reached its peak under his tenure, (my older sister would bring it home) it was as good as any national publication. He would even eat at Lloydy's Diner, which was right behind my childhood home. By the time I made it to the "U" four years later The Ivory Tower was long gone, but by then Garrison had cropped up on the University's radio station, hosting a program with an eclectic mix of music. He went on to Minnesota Public Radio, began writing for The New Yorker, started his Prairie Home Companion radio show and wrote a best-selling book entitled Lake Woebegon Days.
Which brings us back to Pontoon, his eleventh novel which, as the subtitle indicates, is yet another Lake Woebegon tale. To anyone raised in Minnesota, reading these books is a bit like comfort food: filling, tasty, yet somewhat bland. The books are filled with references to Minnesota geography and culture; many of the fictional characters are pastiches of local celebrities. How well this translates to those living elsewhere is a good question, it seems to me that it must be like looking at a photo album of people you don't know.
Still, Garrison perseveres. He is so immersed in this world that it seems to supply its own content, or else he is just content to stay where he is, cranking out these books nearly as fast as he does his weekly radio monologues about- you guessed it- Lake Woebegon! During the time I spent reading this book, he came out with yet another one (Liberty, A Lake Woebegon Novel), which is more of the same. F. Scott Fitzgerald and Sinclair Lewis both left Minnesota to pursue their careers; Garrison left too, but returned after a few years in Denmark to Minnesota, where his career path and inspiration seems to have stalled.